What is Vitiligo?

What is Vitiligo?

New Delhi: Vitiligo is a skin ailment, main symptom being patches of light or discoloured skin, or de-pigmentation of hair and eyes. De-pigmentation is caused when the cells that produce the pigment melanin, begin to die or stop producing melanin. White patches begin to appear on the skin causing disfiguration of appearance.

Though it is more noticeable in people of darker skin, vitiligo does not discriminate on the basis of race. A paper published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology Venereology and Leprology by VN Sehgal and G Srivastava states that the worldwide prevalence of vitiligo is 1%. The Indian subcontinent reportedly has the highest number of cases followed by Japan and Mexico.

Most cases of vitiligo are acquired where a person develops the ailment at a later stage that could be between adolescence or early adulthood. It could be inherited in some cases. It can affect any part of the body, but it usually begins its advance by affecting parts more regularly exposed to the sun including the hands, feet, face or even the retina and the inner tissue of the mouth.

It can occur in a number of patterns such as focal where one or a few particular parts of the body gets affected; Segmental, where one side of the body gets affected or generalized where different parts of the body get affected with the patches developing symmetrically.

The exact cause of Vitiligo is unknown though medical research maintains that it is an autoimmune ailment implying that several factors including, a virus, heredity or exposure to certain chemicals associated with occupations such as dying or mining or even the use of certain traditional cosmetic skin remedies like use of sandalwood or turmeric powder can trigger the ailment.

The king of pop, Michael Jackson whose skin progressively lightened over the years, sparked years of speculation that he had resorted to chemical peeling of his skin to lighten it though he blamed it on vitiligo. His 13-year-old son, Prince Michael was recently reported to have inherited the skin ailment when he was photographed holidaying on a Hawaii beach with discoloured patches of skin over his armpits.

There are no known effective cures for vitiligo though several methods such as Topical steroid therapy; skin grafting and narrow band UV (Ultra Violet) therapy have been known to reduce discoloured patches significantly in some cases.